What does the Bible say about the Great Tribulation?
In the Bible we read about the Great Tribulation, a time of trouble and difficulty as never before seen on the earth, leading up to the Millennium.
This terrible period is right at the end of time. Satan knows his time is short, and does what he can to persecute God’s people and lead as many as he can astray. His servant, the Antichrist, attempts to do away with God entirely, but God is still almighty, and this is the hour of His judgment. Yet even in this terrible time God repeatedly gives grace for people to repent and be saved.
The term “Great Tribulation” can cause some confusion because it is not always clear which events people are referring to. In this article we refer to the events of the entire period of tribulation from the beginning of the end times leading up to the Millennium.
From the account of events in Revelation 3-19 we can see that the Great Tribulation has three stages.
The first stage is marked by the breaking of seven seals in heaven and it culminates in the rapture of the bride of Christ up to heaven and the harlot being cast off of the beast’s back.
The second stage is marked by the blowing of seven trumpets in heaven. This is a period where the beast will be in contention with the “second fruits;” those who were not along in the rapture but choose now to serve God. This stage ends in the reaping of the “second fruits” up to heaven and Satan being thrown out of heaven and down to earth.
The third stage is God’s outpouring of wrath over Satan, the beast, and the Antichrist and their followers. It is marked by the emptying of seven bowls of wrath over the earth. After this Jesus Christ returns to earth with His followers, marking the end of the Great Tribulation and ushering in the Millennium, a thousand years of peace.
The harlot, the beast and the Antichrist
Throughout the Great Tribulation there are three spirit powers that are servants of Satan, and contend against the servants of God. They are the harlot, the beast, and the Antichrist. All three of these spirits are already active now, in our day and age.
The harlot, also called Babylon, uses religion and is the spirit of false Christianity and false doctrine preached in the world. It is a “commercialization” of Christianity. The harlot tries to mix the Word of God with the spirit in the world to give people what they want. She is called a “harlot” because she is trying to please two masters.
Revelation 13 tells about the “beast;” a confederacy of world leaders and nations who blaspheme God. This spirit uses earthly power to obtain its goal. The beast will make war with the saints and will overcome them during the second stage of the Great Tribulation. (Revelation 13:7) We see the beginnings of this development already in the governments of the world today that turn away from God’s laws and mock Christianity, in action if not directly in word. It is becoming less and less acceptable to be a Christian that actually lives for God’s laws. When the beast takes full power after the rapture he will openly condemn Christianity and persecute all who follow God.
Soon after the rise of the beast a second beast will come to power. In Revelation 13:11 he is compared to both a lamb and a dragon. This second beast is the Antichrist. The Antichrist’s main goal is to get as many as possible to bow down and worship the first beast and whoever refuses will be killed. The Antichrist is a man, but the spirit of the Antichrist and the beast have already been at work on the earth since the days of the apostles, and right up until today. (1 John 4:3) They are developing their strength more and more but they cannot take full power until after the rapture. (2 Thessalonians 2:1-11)
The seven seals
In Revelation 5 we read about a scroll bound with seven seals. When Christ opens these seals, the Great Tribulation starts. Each seal corresponds to a specific event in the Great Tribulation.
In Revelation 6:1-8 we read that the first four seals broken unleash four riders on the earth to conquer and spread war, famine, and death. This corresponds closely to what Jesus says in Matthew 24:6-8. After these spirit powers are unleashed the fifth seal is broken and many Christians will be killed and martyred for their faith. (Revelation 6:9-11, Matthew 24:9)
It is clear that the conditions on the world will have fallen to an all-time low. People will be ruled by hatred and pride. Christians will be persecuted and killed for their faith, lawlessness will abound, and false christs (messiahs) and false prophets will rise up. (Matthew 24:10-28)
The sixth seal broken will herald the arrival of earthquakes and cosmic disturbances. The sun and stars will go dark and the moon will become like blood. (Revelation 6:12-17 and Matthew 24:29)
After this takes place, Matthew 24:30 tells us that the Son of Man will appear in heaven and all the tribes of the earth will mourn. Jesus will come on the clouds to fetch His bride. This is known as the rapture, but Jesus does not actually return to the earth, so this is not the second coming of Jesus, which takes place later, after God’s wrath has been poured out on the earth.
In the rapture, Jesus sends out angels to fetch His bride, the 144,000, from all corners of the earth. (Revelation 7, Matthew 24:31 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18) Even though we know the events leading up to this point, Jesus also says that no one will know the day or hour. (Matthew 24:36)
When the bride is raptured then the harlot will also be thrown off the beast’s back. (Revelation 17:16) The beast no longer wants to listen to any form of Christianity or even false Christianity or any form of religion.
The seventh and final seal will then be broken. In Revelation 8:2 we see that seven angels are given seven trumpets and in verse 6 they are preparing to sound them.
This is the end of the “Great Tribulation” as described by Jesus in Matthew, leading up to the rapture. However the prophecy in the book of Revelation tells of more events that will take place after the rapture, which see a significant escalation of the “Great Tribulation.”
The seven trumpets
The seven angels mentioned in the breaking of the seventh seal in Revelation 8:6 were given seven trumpets. Each trumpet blown brings a new wave of disaster to the earth. This next stage of the end times is God’s judgment on the earth, but God’s wrath is still mixed with grace, so those who were not along in the rapture can still turn to God and get grace. These will not be counted in the firstfruits, the bride of Christ, but will have the opportunity to repent and become martyrs for their faith. These are the “second fruits” of God’s harvest.
Since the Bride has been raptured there is no longer anything holding back the beast and the Antichrist from taking full power. The Antichrist spirit that has been present since the days of the apostles (1 John 4:3) will finally take a physical form and the man Antichrist, the lawless one, will rule over the whole earth and persecute those who were left behind but still serve God. (2 Thessalonians 2:1-12)
He will try to force everyone to take the mark of the beast (Revelation 13:16-17) which shows that the bearer has rejected God and worships the beast. Without this mark nobody will be able to buy or sell.
The first four trumpets sounded will herald the destruction of a third of the trees and all the grass, a third of the sea, a third of the sea creatures and a third of all ships. A third of the fresh water on the earth will become poisonous and bitter and a third of the sun, stars, and moon will be darkened. (Revelation 8:7-13)
The fifth trumpet unleashes hellish locusts from the bottomless pit to torment mankind. (Revelation 9:1-12) They are led by the “angel of the bottomless pit” called Abaddon or Apollyon. (Revelation 9:11)
At the sound of the sixth trumpet four angels are released to go over the earth and kill a third of mankind by fire, smoke, and brimstone. This is God’s last chance given to mankind to come into heaven before He pours His wrath and judgment over the earth. Unfortunately, it is written that the rest of mankind still do not repent of their sin – meaning they had yet another opportunity to do so! (Revelation 9:13-21) God also sends two witnesses to earth to prophecy. They will be killed for their testimony and then resurrected by God and taken up to heaven. (Revelation 11:1-14)
The seventh trumpet is then sounded and loud voices in heaven cry out “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!” (Revelation 11:15) It is clear now that everyone who has accepted Jesus as their Lord and Saviour will be in heaven. This includes the bride of Christ, the martyrs, and the heroes of the Old Covenant. All of God’s different servants will now be gone from the earth and gathered in heaven.
The next chapter in Revelation describes a war in heaven. The angel Michael and his angels cast Satan and his angels out of heaven and down to the earth, once and for all. (Revelation 12:7-9)
The seven bowls of wrath
Now that God has gathered all His servants from the earth and placed them in heaven there is no place for Satan and his evil hosts anymore. They are banished to the earth with all those sinners who refused to repent time and time again. Now God is in a position to empty out His wrath and judgment over the earth, against the beast and all those who have worshipped the beast.
Seven angels are given seven bowls of wrath, each of which unleashes a plague on the earth. The first bowl sends out loathsome sores to all who have the mark of the beast. (Revelation 16:2) The second and third bowls turn the seas and the waters to blood. (Revelation 16:3-4) The fourth bowl gives power to the sun to scorch men (Revelation 16:8-9) and the fifth bowl fills the world with darkness and pain. (Revelation 16:10) It is written in Revelation 16:11 that “they did not repent of their deeds.”
The emptying of the sixth bowl causes the river Euphrates to dry up to prepare the way for armies from the East. The beast and the Antichrist begin to gather their armies together at the place in Israel called Armageddon, in preparation for war with God and His people, the Jews in Israel. (Revelation 16:12-16, Ezekiel 38 and 39) They will war against Israel and they will seem to be winning. (Micah 4:11) Jerusalem and the Jews are under tremendous pressure as it appears that the Antichrist and his armies are victorious.
Then the measure is full and it is time for the seventh and last bowl to be emptied, which signals the conclusion of the Great Tribulation. A loud voice cries out from heaven, “It is done.” (Revelation 16:17) There is an earthquake that is mightier than any earthquake that has happened before, cities fall, and islands and mountains disappear. Great hail falls on mankind and men blaspheme God. (Revelation 16:17-21)
Now God’s wrath has been poured over the earth. This is the moment for Christ to come down from heaven, seated on a white horse with the armies of heaven behind Him. The armies of the beast and the Antichrist cannot stand before Him. They are defeated once and for all and He delivers the Jews who were in great distress. Then their eyes will be opened and they will realize that the promised Messiah is Jesus Christ whom they crucified, and repent. (Revelation 19:11-21, Zechariah 12:8-11) The Antichrist and the beast are cast alive into the lake of fire for eternity and Satan is bound for a thousand years. (Revelation 20:1-3) Thus begins the Millennium, a thousand years of peace.
We can see that at each stage of the end times God gives new opportunities for people to repent and come to Him. But the glory and the reward given will vary significantly. How stupid and proud it would be to ignore God’s grace when it is given and then to have to suffer through the Great Tribulation and try to squeeze into heaven at the last second before the end.
“We then, as workers together with Him also plead with you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For He says: ‘In an acceptable time I have heard you, And in the day of salvation I have helped you.’ Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” 2 Corinthians 6:1-2.
God has given us this time of grace now so that we can be along in the bride of Christ – the firstfruits, and those who will receive the greatest reward in heaven! Think about it: not only is the bride spared from the horrible events when God’s bowls of wrath are poured out, but she is also given the greatest reward in heaven! An eternity at the side of Jesus Christ, her Lord and Savior! Are you responding to God’s call in your heart? Are you preparing yourself to be Jesus’ bride? Are you making use of the time, or is God’s grace in vain? Now is the time of grace. Now is the time when God can and will help you!
You might also be interested in our theme page about Overcoming sin.